Documenting St Andrews: Spring and Summer 2020 is a participatory project that produces and reproduces memory about St Andrews through photographs. The call for submissions is open to anyone using photography to document the town and its people between early March and late August 2020.
A message from the creator, Weitian Liu:
The idea, in the very beginning, was as simple as this: let’s ask people to share their photos of St Andrews during the pandemic. Questions followed. What form of sharing will it be based on? What kind of photos do I expect? And most importantly, what’s the point of doing this?
St Andrews already has several established photography-centered groups: photographers’ groups for sharing and exchanging creative works, professional photography studios providing commercial services, photo historians and archivists gathered around the university’s time-honored photography collections dating back to the dawn of photography, various social media pages where you can find anything from images of dogs to black-and-white pictures from family albums.
My project is in many ways closest to the last group. The project was conceived of as an exploration of the participatory potential of digital photography within a site-specific online community. ‘Site-specific’ and ‘online’ can sound contradictory, but during the pandemic the virtual space and the physical space have found new ways to interact and intersect. It is my hope that photographs, which slip in and out of the two spaces in the form of digital files, can stitch together what seem distantly separated in the time of a global pandemic by creating affective bonds between people and place, across temporal and spatial boundaries.
This project differs from existing photo-sharing groups in several ways. I’ve opportunistically chosen the lockdown/pandemic as the theme of the project, despite the effort to neutralise it by putting ‘Spring and Summer 2020’ in the title. The time frame gives the project a focus, just as the photographic image is defined by its frame. However, the project is not calling just for Covid-19 related photos. Documenting is understood in its broadest sense here, derived from photography’s capacity to capture and preserve fleeting moments, and encompassing all kinds of ordinary shots. The project welcomes snapshots of parties from the ‘photo gallery’ of your phone taken at the beginning of March; it also anticipates photographs of the town on breezy July afternoons.
The project is inclusive. The call for submissions is made to anyone who is, has been, or will be in St Andrews between early March and late August 2020. This is my understanding of what the community is comprised of. Inclusivity also concerns the photographs. All photos submitted to the project will be accepted regardless of image resolution and subject matter. Snapshots of domestic life and personal stories are valued as much as topographical views of the town. The public and the private together constitute life in St Andrews.
JPEGs are particularly welcomed. The JPEG is the default mode by which images circulate in the digital world. ‘Lousy data compression’ and social media are nothing new. However, the association of these ideals with low quality advertently fetishizes high resolution and beautiful shots which benchmark high quality photographs, generating a certain norm; in turn, enabling advanced commodification through copyright, advertising and data capture. This project aims to create a more inclusive platform where photography is freed from these conventions and functions as a participatory event within the community. And the ‘poor’ JPEGs can do a wonderful job.
These are some very personal and idiosyncratic expectations from the project. By no means are they new norms. In fact, all photos submitted to the project will be included in the resultant archive without selection. The excitement lies precisely in the unknown and the unexpected. I look forward to receiving interesting submissions that may turn the project’s social media page into something very different from existing photo-sharing social media accounts in St Andrews.
Weitian Liu is a postgraduate student in the History of Photography programme at the University of St Andrews.